Month: July 2017

The awfulness of awful

For more than 20 years I have been teaching writing and research at community colleges and universities in the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington State, and the DC metro area. Students always have had the opportunity to write end-of-the-semester evaluations of my courses, which I dread with open arms. But in recent years they also have been able to express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with me on an extremely popular, high-profile site called Rate My Professors. And these ratings seem to carry as much, if not more, weight than college evaluations do — at least in the court of very public opinion.

While many professors who have received negative reviews on this site might dismiss them as the biased rants of disgruntled students, they would have to be made of granite if they did not feel somewhat besieged or besmirched — not least because these reviews typically appear at the top of the first page of a Google search.

Because I have worked so hard to be a worthy teacher, and because I have done my best to develop respectful relationships with my students, I feel fortunate that I have received largely positive college and online reviews through the years. In fact, if truth be told this has been a source of not a little pride that privately I have held fast to, especially during periods when I have felt less successful in other areas of my life.

Occasionally I will check the site, and from time to time I will find that I have been rewarded with a new, and typically lovely, evaluation. Then, a few days ago I went to it and, to my great horror, for the first time saw the dreaded red scowly face with its corresponding “awful” emblazoned at the tippy top of my list of reviews.

These reviews are anonymous, so I could see only that it was from someone who had taken a course I have not taught since fall 2016. “My God,” I thought. “This student has been waiting to pounce for nearly a year!” My heart was pounding as I read “takes her time” (though this did not strike me as an especially negative quality) and “unhelpful” and “move on if you want an easy A.”

It was painful to know that future students would see this neon red face as soon as they entered my page, and I felt I had to try and do something to protect myself from a faceless, nameless someone who was bent on shredding my reputation. But, I also felt at the mercy of this masked student and of Rate My Professors itself, so my imagination failed me until a small voice from beyond whispered, “Write a rebuttal.” Which I proceeded to do.

Although I did not identify myself as the offended professor (and also was in “Incognito” mode on Chrome), I said that I thought the student review seemed defamatory in light of the other positive reviews, and I also said that there was little of substance to give prospective students a good sense of why the teacher deserved such a low rating from this one student.

I did not really expect anything to come of it, but I felt I had to try something to salve my wound. In fact, having tried years ago, and without any success, to get Google to remove my doctoral dissertation abstract from its search engine, I thought snowballs in Hell would remain intact before this nightmare review disappeared.

Then, the next day I checked the site and saw it had been taken down.

 

Series comma

Musician Ronnie dies away and

cousin Leslie cannot say

how or why God calls

us there beyond the billow:

Sad friend Sarah’s dying dog

gets fed prednisone so life extends

a month perhaps as sibling Robert

hiss-pierces sister’s heart and venom

seeps down hanging veins while

curly-haired Amy sings and weeps

for a brother who died well before

he was newly felled yet somehow

in the face of grace I can make

the smallest case for the naught

we become after we hear our knell

when I find myself impelled

to tell some sighing students

“a series comma is more common.”

Image credit

 

There’s no talking to a scorpion

23-The_Eurypterida-610x403

Did you know that scorpions, the oldest
animals on Earth, appeared 430 million years ago
and have not changed a whit since they walked out of the sea
so they could molt in peace?

Humans have been known to freeze these animals over night,
thaw them out in sunlight the very next morning, and
watch slack-jawed as they scuttled merrily away
in search of their next prey.

Some hardly need air to live because they
can will their metabolisms to a near naught and
have been known to survive
for as much as a year on a single meal.

With eight arthropod legs, a scorpion can outrun you once he has you fixed in his sights. And, should you find yourself face to face with this ancient creature, do not think for a minute that there will be any reasoning with him —
no matter how reasoned your entreaty may be.

Take the note I recently wrote the scorpion who some might call sibling:
my words, it appears,
fell deafly and drear
on salt-wet ears.

Image credit